There is a tremendous difference between embodying the Goddess in all that you are-and-do, and in setting yourself up on a new Goddess-pedestal for others to come and worship you on. The former celebrates life, Spirit, and that personal synergetistic magic you co-create with the Cosmos. The latter, alas, panders to the ego and creates the same hierarchical division that so many of us within the Goddess movement abhor in the patriarchy.
I notice more and more that the less I hold onto as an ‘I’ or ‘Ego-Self’, the freer I am to simply Exist. Interestingly, the more so I give up particular identifications, expectations, and the need to be seen as Priestess / Goddess / Sacred Woman, etc. (which is part of the path for any facilitator – ego’s way of handling this journey till you can let it go) – – -the more I let go of all this, the more people I meet who honor the Sacred in me without having to see me as their superior.
And conversely, these tend to be the type of people in whom I can see that same movement of energy, and honor as friends and equals. That being said, there are days where the Doctor of Political Science bit, or the Priestess bit, or the Daughter-of-My-Ancestors bit, or the Astrologer bit, or the other aspects of me feel like they need to be more strongly asserted. And days where I just let them all go.
And that seems to be a more whole, centered-and-ever-shifting space for me to be in. Setting yourself up on a pedestal happens when the titles/powers/gifts you have or embody become the only, dominant way you can see yourself on your path. But it’s not the whole thing. Nor do I subscribe to the p.o.v. that complete absence is the way either. One extreme seems too full of its ego-self, and the other extreme seems hollow. Middle path, all the way .. yay …
We see these archetypes embedded within cultural folklore and deeply rooted, residual belief systems that human societies unconsciously drift towards, irrespective of how technological or ‘rational’ a civilization becomes.
In India, it is the wrath of a murdered virgin, her unappeased spirit that strikes the fear into local villagers. She is transformed into a grama devathai, deified as a local protectoress for her to ‘find rest’. She becomes the most powerful form of Virgin Goddess, who appears without the Womb (Karumaariamman).
In ancient Greece and Rome, is the the Vestal who successfully mounts an alternative to patriarchal systems of social organization and proprietorship. A collective of women who existed beyond the prescription of man, and in full cognizance of their sexual, ritual, devotional and spiritual dimensions.
In too many civilizational clichés to count, it is the sacrifice of the virgin, be it to the angry volcano or the raging mega-beast, that ultimately spares the lives of its citizens – for the virgin is seen to be the purest form of being, and at the same time, somehow expendable.
There are far too many cross-cutting, interweaving archetypes and stereotypes that run through these narratives to cover in a single article. But what is clear is that the Virgin is somehow associated with a superior sense of spiritual power or worth, in the eyes of those that seek to understand or appropriate her.
From whence does this power stem?
We look to narratives of parthenogenesis in mythology and religion to see it as a vessel through which the Virgin incubates, and births some form of life. It is the chamber in which, with or without the sexual act, Spirit enters the Flesh and Ideas attain their Physical Form.
It is the crucible in which alchemy of the most powerful sort occurs.
And so it is the most feared by a system of social organization that cannot seek to emulate it – Patriarchy.
What was once a sacred understanding of the gift of the Womb became a systemic attempt to control its workings, its engagements with the wider world and its ritual and spiritual significance. An all-out re-signification of the womb and its corpus of biological processes ensued.
Menstruation became taboo. The Sacred Blood that preceded the conception of life became Unclean. The period in which a woman could most acutely and sensitively listen to Her Spirit became a societal joke.
Female sexuality became undesirable, an invitation to to immorality and a general loss of reputation. The independence, self-sufficiency and sexuality of the Virgin was entirely supplanted with an ideology that equated virginity with celibacy, dependency and innocence.
We began elevating pregnancy and motherhood as the ideal state for a woman to attain, limiting her social and biological function to child-rearing. There are simply no ideals as such, for a woman is a woman is a woman. She need not have given birth, or even have been born into a female body in this day and age to be one.
The women’s mysteries themselves were lost for millenia.
Now, with the resurgence of Goddess-centered spirituality we see far more opportunities for men and women to once more cherish the life-giving, idea-birthing, creative and spiritual manifestation vessel that is the womb.
We begin to realize that, for beings that are not born as female or who do not identify as such, there is in fact, an energetic Womb Center through which we can access our own pathways to creative manifestation.
We begin to realize dimensions of humanity lost through the ages as the everyday, human woman was somehow too common, too impure to understand the magic in her own womb, as opposed to her Goddess counterparts.
This is a massive awakening, with multiple geographic epicenters arising in tandem. Political changes in Africa and the rising of female leadership, the energizing of public discourse on sexual attitudes and the ‘causal’ attitudes of rape in India, women’s voices emerging from the Middle East – point to this being something that is happening across the globe. Clearly, the awakening is spreading like wildfire in the West, and that is something to be cherished and celebrated in its own right – but that does not make the West it’s epicenter.
On more than one site, I have seen casual references to how this Re-Awakening is a ‘Western’ (read: Caucasian or North American/European) phenomenon and that women from those regions will lead the way for others. When I hear or read about how the West will re-ignite the Goddess movement, I feel dismayed and to me history begins to echo once more.
I immediately recall the patronizing discourse of ‘educating the natives’ that arose with the earliest proselytizing attempts in Africa and Asia. I recall how the modus operandi of repressive, colonial regimes (in India for example) was to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed women there, who needed freeing from the shackles of their own religions and customs. That led to the codification of a multiplicity of Indian traditions, and in one single blow outlawed certain controversial customs, but also de-legitimized the many practices of peoples of the so-called ‘lower’ castes who had far more fluid attitudes towards marriage and sexuality. (A step backwards, you could say). Many other examples from the history of colonialism and the ideological machine that legitimated it provide so many examples of the same.
When we look to history, we see that any teleological (different from theological) explanation or description given to mass movements has almost inevitably reflected entrenched power hierarchies. In the narrative that I see arising, the West is (once again) the center of the globe – this time with its women, rather than its men, bringing Enlightenment for the Globe. And I find this a mistake that we can avoid, with some circumspection, critical thought and consideration.
Many of the compassionate, awakening, men and women I have on my site are Caucasian, and some of the most evolved spiritual individuals and teachers I know are Caucasian. So I have no issues there, no reason to argue why Western men and women cannot or should not be a part of this movement. What I find problematic is when a particular racial and/or geographic group begin to be uncritically hailed as ‘leaders’ for others to follow.
When we make such categories, when we draw the spiritual geography of this Earth with a particular location of the globe as its center, we make the same kinds of boundaries, hierarchies and power relations which so many of us on the Goddess Path rejected so heavily when it appeared through the institution of patriarchy. Let us avoid making the same judgments when so many of us seek equality and a leveling of the playing field.
We are at a critical time now where our movement has begun to amass enough energy that it stands at the brink of divergence, fragmentation, consolidation – or some other process. We get to choose to avoid the errors of the past, we get to choose to not have to re-learn the lessons of history – just as so many of us are beginning to see the need for herstory or even, ourstory.
For some who might think this to be a ‘trivial’ point, it is important to bear in mind that discourse – the way we talk about things – reflects, very powerfully, the way we think about things. When we privilege any one race or region as being the focus, we (whether we do so consciously, or unconsciously) relegate other centers to a peripheral focus. This was the thrust of the ideological machine used to justify colonialism and bringing ‘God to the natives’. This is the reason why the World Map we all know makes Africa smaller than it is and exaggerates the size of the United Kingdom.
And on top of everything else – for those you who integrate an understanding of the Earth’s kundalini (The Serpent of Light) and its rising in December 2012, the epicenter of that awakening took place in the Andean Mountains of Peru. Ironically, it is in ‘the West’, but not part of what most people mean when they use that term. Their teachings are sifting further and further into collective consciousness, but few ever consider this sacred site to be the ‘center’ of the awakening – and frankly, one does not have to!
This is a movement, as I understand it, for all. For men and women from North, South, East, West. It is a moment where we get to equalize. Where we get to right the wrongs of the past, or at the very least, to create a new balance that celebrates plural perspectives and provides multiple centers.
Unfortunately – and feel free to disagree with this if this is not your perspective, as a Priestess of Colour and a scholar of politics and history, I find that a lot of Western discourse and attitudes towards the spiritual traditions that have found center-stage in the ‘New Age’ movement are far too reminiscent of the ideology and attitudes of Orientalist scholars studying the ‘exotic’ other. So many traditions are being appropriated and given new life, which is a wonderful thing, but they are being done so in ways that do not always look at the reality of the people who live in the contemporary regions those spiritual teachings emanate from.
The spiritual teachings that so much of the New Age subscribes to very often co-exist paradoxically with oppressive, unequal realities for women in other parts of the globe. The beauty of Goddesses and the words that describe them in scripture fly across Facebook walls, but with few reflections on how a land that produced such prose can still kill its daughters and view them as burdens. Very often, these traditions become romanticized in themselves, and the critical question of – Well, why didn’t it work before? Why didn’t it empower the women of the land to rise? is completely missed.
And to me, that is a critical question, that is a key opportunity for us to engage with traditions of the past and identify new pathways for change. We may need to revisit or revamp these traditions that have on the one hand elevated female metaphysical energies, but barred its daughters from real positions of power – be it in politics, or even in the right to hold spiritual office … or even to enter a temple during their menstrual period, if only to open their Heart to The Divine. Whilst honoring traditions are important, idealizing them to the point that the key questions – of what didn’t work? what needs reworking? – needs to be equally addressed. And to this effect, the local knowledge and awakening that is happening concurrently in different global epicenters needs to be honored, integrated and seen as a valuable part of the Goddess Movement.
In the name of respecting ‘ancient traditions of the East/South’, let us not uncritically mouth the same ideology that somehow kept the women of those lands suppressed/oppressed.
Let me give you a concrete example: I have seen a rise in artistic and photographic imagery of the Goddess Kali/Durga as a Caucasian woman. (nothing wrong with that). But as a movement, little consideration is given to the message that imparts to women (from India) who are considered to be too ‘low’ to ever think of themselves as Goddesses. Have you ever seen a Laxmi with Dark Skin? Or one that wasn’t flawless? Ironically, at an anti-rape protest event that I participated in, I saw Indian women carrying placards that said that ‘we don’t need to be goddesses, just treat us as people’. Coming from the land of a million goddesses, this is a powerful statement.
What do we do with those messages? And why are they valued less, or sub-consciously perhaps, integrated less in the mainstream of this movement? We have so much to learn from the fierce self-assertion in the West (in this example) and the desire to assert oneself/be counted outside of the context of religion as expressed by Indian women. But until we see both ‘ways of knowing’ as equal, each side is bound to repeat the painful mistakes of the other. ..Food for thought…
Daughters and Sons of the Mother, wherever you are, whatever the colour of your skin may be – now is the time to Rise. Together, we are all — at the Center.
Post & Image by: Priestess Bairavee Balasubramaniam, PhD
Images: Compilation of Goddess and Earth images freely available on Wikipedia under the appropriate sharing license
Please do not use this image without permission, even in modified form